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Last updated: February 16. 2013 5:26PM - 149 Views

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MOSCOW — A Moscow judge sentenced three members of the provocative punk band Pussy Riot to two years in prison on hooliganism charges on Friday following a trial seen around the world as an emblem of Russia's intolerance of dissent.


The trial inspired a wave of small but raucous protests across Europe and North America in support of the feminist rockers, who have been dubbed prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. Hundreds of Pussy Riot supporters waiting outside the Moscow courtroom chanted "down with the police state" when the sentence was announced. Dozens were detained, including several opposition leaders.


The three women were arrested in March after a guerrilla performance in Moscow's main cathedral where they high-kicked and danced while singing a "punk prayer" pleading with the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a third term as Russia's president two weeks later.


Judge Marina Syrova said in her verdict that the band members "committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred." She rejected the women's arguments that they were protesting the Orthodox Church's support for Putin and didn't intend to offend religious believers.


Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, stood in handcuffs in a glass cage in the courtroom for three hours as the judge read the verdict. They smiled sadly as the judge recounted testimony of prosecution witnesses accusing them of sacrilege and "devilish dances" in church and said that their feminist views made them hate the Orthodox religion.


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